I feel like everything about Breaking Bad has been said already. Most people had it in their top 5 shows of all time. After The Sopranos and The Wire, there is Breaking Bad. Its Brilliance does not change the fact that its success is unlikely at first. Breaking Bad is not a blue blooded drama on HBO, it is on then little known channel AMC. Breaking Bad’s stars are traditional movie stars, Breaking Bad does not have the absurd budget that a lot of TV shows now have. All Breaking Bad have are excellent direction, amazing screenwriting and incredible performances. Although I personally like its spinoff Better Call Saul more, Breaking Bad is still a remarkable achievement in the history of Television.
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I believe you all know the story behind Breaking Bad. X Files showrunner and Writer Vince Gilligan come up with the premise of turning the protagonist into an antagonist or in Vince’s words, “from Mr. Chips to Scarface”.After writing the concept for the show and pilot, Gilligan pitched it to Sony Pictures Television, who became very interested in supporting it. Sony arranged for meetings with the various cable networks. Showtime passed on this, as they had already started broadcasting Weeds, a show with similarities to the premise of Breaking Bad. While his producers convinced him that the show was different enough to still be successful, Gilligan later stated that he would not have gone forward with the idea had he known about Weeds earlier. Other networks like HBO and TNT also passed on the idea, but eventually FX took interest and began initial discussions on producing the pilot. At the same time, FX had also started development of Dirt, a female-centric crime-based drama series, and with three existing male-centric shows already on the network, FX passed up Breaking Bad for Dirt. Both Weeds and Dirt will not be as remotely successful as Breaking Bad. AMC eventually picked up the show to be premiered alongside Mad Men. Both Breaking Bad and Mad Men will be the headliners for AMC’s transition into a prestige TV channel.
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The location at Albuquerque, New Mexico was not the original idea either. It was supposed to be set in Los Angeles, however, as the budget of shooting in L.A. was too expensive, it was changed to Albuquerque. Actually, I think it is an even better choice. Breaking Bad and especially El Camino are very western like. And Albuquerque and the massive desert next to it is a perfect setting. Moreover, unlike L.A, Albuquerque is not a very major city, without the bright lights. Walter White’s main characteristics is he is not satisfied by his boring life, if he lives in L.A. of all places, one of the most eventful cities in the states, why would he feel bored? Finally, there is the fact that there are a million shows and movies set in L.A., but can you name a TV show or Movie besides Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul that is set in ABQ? Most of you can’t. These two shows do wonders to the tourism of the city. A lot of tourists from all over the world travel to ABQ because of Breaking Bad. Blue Sky meth candies were sold in various shops. Another example is a spacious branch of the local chain Twisters—which filled in for Los Pollos Hermanos, meth boss Gus Fring’s drug-front-cum-chicken-joint. That Twisters still has the Los Pollos Hermanos sign hanging inside the restaurant today. To mark the anniversary, two Albuquerque-based fans are paying to transform the restaurant back into Los Pollos Hermanos on Saturday, January 20—and offering to buy burritos for any cast member of prequel Better Call Saul who shows up to celebrate. Breaking Bad being set in Albuquerque is not only beneficial to the story, it is also beneficial to the city.
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So What’s Breaking Bad about?
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A struggling high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), is diagnosed with inoperable, advanced lung cancer. On a ride along with his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), Walter sees a former student of his, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), fleeing the scene of a meth lab. He later contacts Jesse and devises a scheme to become partners in an attempt to combine their skills to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine, with Walter cooking the product and Jesse using his street connections to distribute it. Walter says he wants to provide financial stability for his pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and disabled son, and to pay for his expensive cancer treatment. During Walter and Jesse's first days of selling Albuquerque's finest meth, they encounter a series of problems with local drug dealers. Walter takes to selling the meth he produces to a local drug lord, Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), using the alias 'Heisenberg'.
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Walter continues to find himself facing insurmountable medical bills from his cancer treatment. Despite having had several bad experiences while producing meth with Jesse, Walter agrees to rejoin his partner. The two begin producing meth but run into multiple problems. Jesse's friend Badger (Matt L. Jones) is arrested while selling meth in a sting operation. Walter hires a lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), to help Badger. Walter and Jesse drive a recreational vehicle into the desert and produce meth for four days. Later, Combo, another of Jesse's friends and distributors, is killed by a rival gang for selling meth in their territory. Saul suggests the two find a new distribution model. Throughout this, Jesse has been building a relationship with his neighbor and landlord, Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter). Jane, who is a recovering addict, relapses and the two begin doing heroin. Saul finds them a new business partner, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), who is willing to pay $1.2 million for the 38 pounds of meth they produced. Walter hastily delivers the product to Gus, but misses his daughter's birth. Walt withholds Jesse's half of the money because of his drug use, but Jane finds out about it and blackmails Walt. Walt visits Jesse's house and witnesses Jane overdosing and choking on her own vomit, but perceiving her as an enemy, sits idly beside her and lets her die. Skyler confronts Walter about his frequent absences and excuses. She begins to piece together his secret life and demands that they separate.
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Walter wishes to reunite his family, but Skyler is still suspicious of Walter's second life. Walter believes he can mend the tension between them by confessing to her that he has been producing meth. Skyler is appalled by the confession and demands a formal divorce. Meanwhile, Gus offers to pay Walter $3M for three months of his service. He even offers to provide Walter with a state-of-the-art production facility and a brilliant lab assistant, Gale (David Costabile). Jesse is continuing to produce and sell meth by himself.
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Hank is working with the DEA to investigate Jesse and is slowly gathering evidence to make an arrest. He survives an assassination attempt made by Tuco's twin cousins and manages to kill one of his assailants and critically injure the other, who later dies in the hospital. Hank suffers critical wounds but survives.
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Jesse threatens to report Walter to the police if he is arrested, but Walter offers him Gale's position at the lab. After obtaining the position, Jesse begins stealing meth from the lab and selling it in secret on the side. Jesse gets romantically involved with a woman he meets in his rehab group and learns her kid brother, age 11, was put up by Gus and his street dealers to kill Combo. Jesse decides to avenge Combo. Walter aids Jesse in escaping from Gus's wrath. Gus begins to lose trust in Walter and asks Gale to take over the lab. He orders his henchmen to kill Walter and Jesse. After he is abducted by the henchmen, Walter instructs Jesse over the phone to kill Gale in order to force Gus not to kill Walter (and, by extension, Jesse) lest he eliminate his only remaining trained chemist.
Jesse follows Walter's instructions and murders Gale. Gus decides to discipline the two by enforcing stricter policies at the lab. He also tries to break Walter and Jesse's friendship by assigning them to separate work details. While Walter works in the meth lab, Jesse escorts Mike (Jonathan Banks), one of Gus's enforcers, to retrieve payments and provide back-up. Walter and Jesse become increasingly distant from, and hostile to, each other. Meanwhile, Hank, who has been recovering from his last engagement with the cartel, finds evidence linking Gale to Gus. He believes Gus is a major drug distributor and starts looking for tangible evidence to file charges. Gus realizes Walter's close ties with Hank could jeopardize his entire operation. Gus fires Walter and informs him Hank will be killed. He also warns Walter that if he intervenes his entire family will be murdered. Jesse and Walter put their differences aside and agree to murder Gus, convincing former cartel enforcer Hector Salamanca to detonate a suicide bomb; Hector succeeds in this endeavor, killing himself, Gus, and Tyrus, Gus's henchman. Walter and Jesse then destroy the meth lab and Walter declares to his wife, "I won."
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Following Gus Fring's death, Walter partners with Jesse and Mike to create a new meth production and distribution operation. Mike handles all business aspects of the partnership, while Walter and Jesse work with a team of house fumigators to produce meth in tented houses. Hank and the DEA are able to identify nine prison inmates and one lawyer with criminal ties to Mike. Walter kills Mike, and is fearful that the informants will flip on Walter's operation since Mike is no longer able to pay them to keep quiet. He hires Jack Welker, the leader of a neo-Nazi gang, to kill the ten informants from within prison. Walter's business continues unimpeded until he decides to retire after accruing $80 million, which he buries in the desert.
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Later, Hank is invited to the Whites' home, where he unintentionally stumbles upon one of Walter's books with a signed message from Gale Boetticher. He realizes that Walter is the infamous Heisenberg and secretly restarts the investigation. Hank forms an alliance with Jesse, who now despises Walter for all his wrongdoings. Left with no options, Walter hires Jack again to murder Jesse. Walter attempts to confront Jesse in the desert, but instead Hank traps and arrests him. The neo-Nazi gang arrives and engages Hank in a fierce firefight. Jack executes Hank despite Walter's pleas. Jesse is captured and forced into slavery, producing meth for the gang. Before leaving, Jack and his gang take a majority of Walter's money, leaving him with only $11 million.
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Skyler and Walter Jr. are distraught over Hank's death and hold Walter accountable. They refuse to leave Albuquerque with Walter and instead contact the police. Walter spends the next several months hiding in a cabin in New Hampshire while struggling with cancer. He returns to New Mexico in order to visit his family one final time and seek revenge against Jack. Later that night, Walter executes all of the gang's members and frees Jesse, who escapes from the compound before the police arrive. Walter realizes he is mortally wounded from a gunshot and slowly succumbs to his injury as the police search the compound.
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The main theme of Breaking Bad is ego. From Walt, to Hank, to Gus, every character’s downfall is because of ego. Walt’s downfall is because of his massive ego. He was a meek nerd chemistry teacher who was not respected in his household. His wife is incredibly controlling and demanding, his brother in law is filled to the brim with toxic masculinity and does not respect Walt as a man. This, combined with the resentment he felt after he received a mere $5000 buyout for his share at Grey Matter Technologies, gave birth to the Heisenberg persona. There is a meme in the Breaking Bad fandom, “This is the moment (insert character) becomes (insert character)”, like “This is the moment Kim becomes Slipping Kimmy”. It is born from the certain part of the community who would really like to point out the exact moment where Walt becomes Heisenberg. No matter is the first meeting between Walt and Tuco at the end of “Crazy Handful of Nothin’”, the killing of the two child soldier using drug dealer at the end of “Half Measures” or the maniacal laugh at the end of “Crawl Space”, these moments are undoubtedly Heisenberg. However, Heisenberg always existed inside of Walt, these moments only ripped off the mask, but Heisenberg is a constant fixture of his life. This massive ego and massive chip on his shoulders created his drug empire, however it also helped take down said empire. His decision to essentially gloat in front of his DEA brother in law, Hank. First he laughed at the theory of Gale Boetticher being Heisenberg, which leads to Hank restarting his investigation and putting the trail on Gus Fring, which set up a chain of events which leads to Fring’s death and the destruction of the Los Pollos Hermanos drug empire. That’s not the end. As his gloating does not result in much harm, Walt grew complacent, and place a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaf of Grass given to him by Gale on his Toilet, which allows Hank to discover this essential evidence, put all the dots together and deduce Heisenberg’s real identity and start the downfall of Walt’s little drug empire. Ironically, Hank’s downfall and death also is because of pride and ego. He decided to call his wife Marie telling her that Walt is caught when he takes down Walt at the end of “To'hajiilee''. This is a massive mistake as Walt’s backup in the faces of the Neo-Nazis showed up shortly after the call and that phone call would be the last things he spoke to his wife. Gus Fring is another example, he is essentially a foil to Walt. Both Walt and Gus rose to power because of a massive chip on their shoulders because of a previous event. The Grey Matter Buyout for Walt and the murder of a close friend to Gus. Both use unconventional methods to discover new ground in this trade, a new production method for Walt, a new business and distribution model for Gus. Both Gus and Walt meet their demise while trying to kill off those who took away all their achievement, Hector Salamanca for Gus and the skinheads for Walt. Their insistence on doing the job themselves are ultimately what got them in the end.
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A clear foreshadowing moment of the series is in the very first episode. “You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.” This fascinating change is not limited to chemical elements. Most characters went through change throughout the journey. From side characters who would one day receive their spin off show, Saul and Mike to the protagonists, Walt, Jesse to antagonists towards Walt like Gus and Hank. All of them changed throughout the show. Character arc is something which a lot of film buff uses. But what is a character arc? If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. There are three types of character arcs, positive character arc, negative character arc and flat character arc. Two of them are present in the series. Let’s start with a positive character arc. Hank Schrader is clearly an example. Hank in the early seasons is a clear example of toxic masculinity, he made crude jokes that are not very funny, regularly puts down Walt. He was supposed to be the comic relief in the show, but most of his jokes, either intentionally or unintentionally, do not work. However, thanks to the shift in tone of the show from a black comedy to a serious drama and the introduction of Saul Goodman to be the full time comic relief, Hank has more space to develop his character. Through the encounters with Tuco Salamanca, witnessing the Tortuga bomb and being crippled by the Salamanca Twins, all of that pride that is on Hank is being stripped away, and he become a much more emphatic character, which is in sharp contrast to Walt who is becoming much more of an asshole as time goes. I am straight up rooting for Hank at the end of the series to take down Walt. Meanwhile, it is obvious what the negative character arc is for, it is Walter White. Walt’s transformation from a likeable meek chemistry teacher to an egotistical, unlikeable asshole has been well documented, and I will try to brief, but it is one of the most phenomenal downfall character arcs of all time. It felt like something inevitable and sort a destiny where one thing leads to another. From the Grey Matter buyout to the Cancer Diagnosis to the killing of Krazy 8 to the confrontation of Tuco to the murder plot of Gale to taking down Gus, every event leads to another in some sort of domino effect. It is a glorious trainwreck that you just can’t look away from.
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I claim that I like Better Call Saul more than Breaking Bad at the beginning. It is true, in my opinion. The one thing which really drags down Breaking Bad is some of its side plots. These side plots are extremely unnecessary. Is Skyler’s affair with Ted Beneke necessary? It does next to nothing for Skyler’s character and it gives us one of the cringiest scenes in the series in Skyler singing happy birthday to Ted. Also Marie’s kleptomania is also very annoying and not necessary to the whole series as a whole. These awful side plots tracked much of the series’s non stop momentum. Better Call Saul is very well trimmed in that regard. Not a lot of screen time was wasted. Every moment is used to strengthen the two main plot lines of Jimmy and Mike. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are vastly different. Breaking Bad is much more bombastic while Better Call Saul is more of a slow burn. The stakes of Better Call Saul is very low in that retrospect. Most of Jimmy’s issue is dealing with elderlies and his brother. The climax of the first three seasons of Better Call Saul is a court hearing for Jimmy, while the climax of the first episode of Breaking Bad is Walt using chemistry to kill a goon. These shows are vastly different, it is like comparing apples and oranges. I personally like the character drama and slow burn of Better Call Saul more, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a fan of Breaking Bad. Both shows are phenomenal in their own right.
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After Better Call Saul’s final season airs next year. The Breaking Bad universe is officially over. No more new entries according to Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. As upsetting as that will be, at least it will most likely end with dignity, unlike something like Game of Thrones or Dexter. Breaking Bad is incredible from beginning to end and it is incredible it started and ended like that. It is what blue sky meth is, addictive, pure, remarkable.
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